April 2010

Some of the worst memories of my childhood have long since been glossed over. Fights, awkward moments, bad grades, bad teachers, skinned knees, lost friends, deaths of friends, traumatic sport losses, broken legs — all these things now feel like they only happened in a movie I saw; it’s as if I received a mental shot of novocaine, dulling the burns from painful moments to such an extent that I sometimes wonder if they ever happened.

9/11 is becoming that way for me, and I didn’t realize it until recently when I watched for the first time “Inside 9/11” on the National Geographic Channel. It’s been almost nine years since it happened, and like most of you, I still remember where I was when I learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. I remember at first that I thought it was just a terrible accident, until the second plane hit. I know like everyone else that I was horrified and angry and demanded an eye for an eye from the perpetrators; I felt this way for some time, but then time passed.

The pictures in my mind stayed, but the emotions, once seemingly inexorably attached to the events, were replaced by an almost perfunctory, “Those bastards … Never again! Never forget!” But I think I did, until I saw everything unfold again. I know virtually nothing about psychology and how the brain works, but it seems there’s a built-in defense mechanism that protects us from harmful memories. It anesthetizes us so that we can move on with our lives, I think.

Trouble is, though, we can’t move on from this as if it were some childhood event. Someone said in the documentary that we need another 9/11 to wake us up, suggesting that we’re forgetting the things we need to do to ensure this never happens again, that we’ve become complacent, that we’re human and resilient and we do forget because that’s what we have to do sometimes to survive.

Rather than thinking we need another 9/11, maybe we need to reopen old wounds from time to time, pick at them, have them hurt again because in this one instance at least, we can’t move on. To survive, we have to stay right where we were. P

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